“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise
Pouring herself a glass of wine, Lennie smiled as she heard Duncan see the last of his guests out. His sixteenth birthday party was a huge success! Duncan and Myron had hosted his friends in the family room with the right foods and music, making for the right ‘cool’ factor. Lennie had set up the breakfast nook and dining room for chauffeuring parents, as well as the den for younger siblings. Everyone was happy.
Everyone was also incredibly well-behaved. Lennie and a couple of patrolling dads didn’t have to issue any warnings about dance floor antics or couples sneaking off. Though they tried to act like grownups, Lennie felt most of the teens were secretly glad their parents were so close by.
Taking a seat on the reclining leather sofa, Lennie lazily leaned back enjoying the quiet. Looking around the room, she was also pleased and impressed at how parents had organized everyone into cleaning crews. Everything was back in its place, and even all the trash was taken out.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Hearing Duncan’s raised voice, Lennie sat up. She hoped no one was having car trouble.
“I don’t owe you a damn thing!”
On her feet immediately, Lennie sat her wineglass on the bar as she moved towards the front door. Before she could even leave the family room, Duncan and Myron were standing in front of her…faces hard and anger flaring in their eyes.
“Duncan Mitchell Porter! Did I hear you swear? You just turned-” Lennie stopped abruptly when she noticed someone approaching behind the boys. Her facial features immediately mimicked theirs.
“Ranard. What are you doing here?”
With far too much swagger, Ranard stepped around his sons to stand in front of Lennie.
“Well, damn. No man should be greeted this way in his own home. My sons don’t want to allow me in, and my wife questions my presence.” He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, but Lennie took a step back. Ranard smirked.
“Again, I ask…what are you doing here, Ranard?” The iciness of her tone caused the smirk on his face to fade.
“I couldn’t miss our eldest son’s sixteenth birthday, Lennie. Even though I wasn’t invited to the party, I at least thought I’d be welcomed.”
“You missed the last seven birthdays, Ranard, and two or three before that. What’s different now? And how did you know we had a party?”
Ranard tried to feign sorrow…and fell short. “I’ve been sitting outside for quite a while. I pulled up and saw all the cars and knew you were celebrating in here. Since I wasn’t told about it beforehand, I decided to wait until the crowd thinned.”
“More like you didn’t want to embarrass yourself in front of a group of people who know what kind of a father you’re not.” There was no mistaking the venom in Duncan’s voice.
“Boy, is that any way to speak to your father? I may not be around, but look at the home I’ve provided for you…a home that still bears my name, by the way. I don’t need an invitation. I can come and go as I please.”
Lennie turned away from Duncan to fully face Ranard. “Since when? We’re legally separated, and this is not your address of record. So, no matter how the mortgage currently reads, you cannot come and go here as you please. I’ll ask one more time. What are you doing here?”
Giving up all pretense, Ranard threw up his hands. “Fine. Some people just won’t allow you to be nice. I want to sell the house. Even without an appraisal, the mortgage company assures me I could more than make back my investment.”
Lennie and the boys all stood there…mouths agape…not believing their ears. Duncan was the first to speak.
“You want to sell our home? After seven years, you show up to tell us you’re selling our home?”
Lenore Porter stood by silently…frozen in a rage she had never known. The man standing across the room was a stranger to her. Any love she may have still had for Ranard had faded years ago. But, now…in this very moment, she understood what it meant to hate someone. This man casually told his children he wanted to sell their home. He was more concerned with investments than their welfare. Lennie had had enough. She was done. Approaching Ranard slowly, she enunciated each word.
“This house…our home, is not for sale, Ranard. There are two names on the mortgage and without my consent, the mortgage company shouldn’t be quoting deals to you. They haven’t seen you or received a cent from you in seven years. If you try to push through any kind of sale, I’ll sue you and them! Do you understand? Do you hear what I’m saying, Ranard?”
Anger flared in his eyes. “You can’t talk to me like that! Who do you think you are-”
“Unlike you, I know who…and what I am, Ranard. But then…you know how pathetic you are, don’t you, Ranard? Gilbert Porter has made sure to remind you of that every chance he gets!”
“You watch your mouth! Do not speak to my mother that way!” Duncan visibly shook, his hands tightening into fists.
“And what about you, boy? Talking to your father like you’re a man or something! I can see your mother slacked on her job of teaching you some respect!”
Duncan took a step towards his father, but Lennie stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“My boys are well mannered, and respectable…to those who are deserving of their respect.”
“I’ve had just about enou-”
“Good! Then you can go now.”
“I’ll leave when I’m-”
“Mom? Is everything okay?”
They all turned suddenly to see eleven-year-old RJ standing at the top of the stairs. His eyes were wide with fear as he clutched the top of the banister.
Glaring at Ranard one last time, Lennie rushed up the stairs to her youngest, most sensitive child. “Yes, sweetie, it is. We all had a small misunderstanding, but nothing for you to worry about, okay?”
RJ glanced down at his big brothers, noticing…and feeling the anger enveloping them. He then looked at Ranard, his expression blank. While Duncan and Myron had time with their father when they were babies and toddlers, RJ had almost none since the day he was born. His brothers felt a sense of betrayal and rejection from their father, but RJ felt nothing. To him, Ranard Porter was someone who upset his mother. And, now Ranard had upset his brothers. RJ wanted to go to his brothers, but Lennie was at his side wrapping her arm around his shoulder.
“C’mon, sweetie. Let’s get you back to bed. No more excitement tonight.”
RJ reluctantly allowed his mother to steer him back down the long hallway.
“You can go now.” Myron didn’t bother to hide his contempt for his father.
Ranard smirked. “You got balls, boy…I’ll give you that. But sounds like you need a lesson in respect, and I’m-”
“…not the person to give it to him. I’ll walk you to the door…dad.” Duncan grimaced on the last word as though it left a foul taste in his mouth.
Sizing his sixteen-year-old son up as Duncan got closer, Ranard realized for the first time that the boy had the advantage in height and weight. He quickly took a step back.
“What has that woman been telling you boys to make you hate me so much? I’m your father, dammit! Stop treating me like some thug off the street!”
“Then stop acting like one”, Duncan countered. “My birthday means nothing to you. None of us mean anything to you. You showed up to take from us. I don’t know why you thought mom would simply agree with you, but you’re wrong. This is our home. Mom takes care of us…and we’re not leaving.”
A bitter smiled tugged at the corner of Ranard’s mouth. “She takes care of you. Your sweet, sainted mother. Am I supposed to believed that she makes a few sandwiches a week, and she can afford all this?” He gestured around the foyer. “I’m not a fool. I know she’s got some man in the shadows taking care of her.”
“I wish she did!” Ranard and Duncan both turned to look at Myron.
“Then you wouldn’t be standing here. Then maybe mom wouldn’t have to work so hard. And maybe we’d have a real dad.”
“Like I said…Saint Lenore! I’m not buying it! I know she’s whoring around to keep my house from me!”
Ranard had barely finished his sentence before Myron lunged at him.
“Stop calling mom names! Stop it! Stop it! I hate you! I hate you’re our father! I hate you!”
While Myron’s blows found their mark, he was not yet as big as his brother. Ranard easily subdued him and fisted Myron’s shirt collar at the base of his throat. Slapping his son across the face, Ranard laughed.
“You got some fire, kid, but like I said,” Ranard slapped Myron across the face again, “you need to learn some resp-” He didn’t get to finish his sentence.
Grabbing his father’s hand, Duncan twisted it behind his back. “Let. Him. Go.”
“Boy, you’d better take-”
Duncan twisted Ranard’s arm higher. “I said…let him go.”
Defying his son, Ranard tightened his grip on Myron’s collar.
Duncan continued to twist his father’s arm until his hand nearly touched the back of his own head.
Crying out, Ranard shoved Myron backward away from him, causing Myron to fall.
Seeing his brother go down, Duncan snapped. Sweeping his foot under his father’s legs, Duncan took Ranard down, never releasing his hand. Hitting the floor with a thud, Ranard flailed around helplessly.
“Let go of me!”
Holding fast, Duncan slowly applied pressure to Ranard’s hand. Screaming in pain, Ranard attempted to dig his other hand into Duncan’s leg.
He only succeeded in pissing off his son more. Duncan leaned forward, wrapping his arm under Ranard’s neck, effecting a choke hold, and tightened his grip.
Wiping the blood from his mouth, Myron watched silently, not caring if the man on the floor lived or died.
“DUNCAN! NO! STOP! LET GO!”
Myron looked up to see his mother leaning over the upstairs railing.
Duncan, with his own eyes squeezed tightly closed, continued to apply pressure to Ranard’s neck.
Lennie pleaded with her eldest son as she raced down the stairs.
“Duncan! Please let go! Please, Duncan, stop!” Lennie fell to her knees as she reached her son. Grabbing his arms, Lennie attempted to break his hold, with no success. “Duncan, you have to stop! Don’t do this! Please, baby!”
It was as if she hadn’t spoken at all. Blind with rage, Duncan Porter tightened his hold.
Lennie, near hysteria, panicked even more when she saw Ranard’s eyelids flutter.
“Duncan! He is not worth it! Please stop! Let go! Don’t ruin your life over someone who didn’t care enough to be a part of it!” Lenore grabbed at her own chest, the thought of losing her son caused her physical pain.
The shrill cry echoed in the room and hallway as all eyes turned to see RJ standing at the bottom of the stairs, tears streaming down his face.
As though coming out of a trance, Duncan Porter looked down at his arm wrapped around his father’s neck…and released him immediately…slamming Ranard’s face against the floor. In one swift move, Duncan was on his feet moving towards his baby brother. Reaching RJ, Duncan wrapped him in his arms, hugging his close. He turned them both, moving towards Myron, and Lennie saw his face was wet from tears.
She glared at Ranard, who was drooling and sputtering as he crawled across the floor. “Are you happy now, Ranard?” She rose and went to her sons, seeing the dried blood on Myron’s face and shirt for the first time.
“I’m calling the police! They lock sixteen-year-olds up in this state like adults! You should never have attacked me like some common criminal! I’m going to make sure you go to prison for this!” His throat raw from the choke hold, Ranard’s threats didn’t hold the power he intended.Standing with her boys, Lenore Porter smirked. “Go ahead, Ranard…call the police.” She reached into her back pocket. “Would you like to use my phone?”
Standing with her boys, Lenore Porter smirked. “Go ahead, Ranard…call the police.” She reached into her back pocket. “Would you like to use my phone?”
Propping himself up against the wall, Ranard stared at her, confused. “What?”
“Would you like to use my phone?”
“Are you stupid? You want YOUR son to go to jail?”
“He’s not going anywhere. But, if he does, he’s not going alone. Perhaps they’ll let you two share a cell, and Duncan can practice a few more wrestling moves on you.”
Patting his pockets in search of his cell phone, Ranard tried to laugh but choked instead. “You dizzy bitch! I’m not going to jail.” He pointed towards Duncan. “He overpowered me and tried to kill me!”
Slipping two fingers under Myron’s chin, Lennie gently raised his head. “This is called child abuse, Ranard. After the police see his busted lip, swollen eye, and all the blood on his shirt…trust me…you’re going to jail.”
True fear showed in Ranard’s face. Pushing himself up finally into a standing position, he tried to challenge Lennie. “You won’t do that. You can’t do that.”
“You would be surprised at what I can do, Ranard.” She took two steps in his direction. “I’m raising my boys to be good men…despite who their father is. I run a successful business that I get offers for every week.” She gestured around the room. “I’ve hung on to, and taken care of this house without so much as a penny from you. I can do just about anything I set my mind to.”
She took two more steps towards him. “But you know what I couldn’t do, Ranard? I couldn’t help you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make you see your own self-worth. I loved you. I gave you a family. Yet, you still couldn’t see how much you mattered. Instead, you turned all the hatred you had for your father on to me…and then foolishly did anything you could to prove you were better than your father.” Lennie shook her head sadly. “But it didn’t work, Ranard. All you did was become Gilbert Porter.”
He flinched as though she had slapped him. “No! Don’t say that! I’m nothing like him!”
“You’re exactly like him. The only difference between the two of you is his wife died. You simply acted like yours did.”
“There’s nothing else to say here. If you’re going to call the police, do it now. If not, leave Ranard…and never come back.”
“Call the police…or leave and never come back. There are no other options. Nothing left to discuss.”
Looking completely lost, Ranard moved towards the front door. Rubbing at his throat, he stopped and looked back at his children standing together with their arms around each other. He looked at his wife and saw her face clouded with contempt…for him.
Turning and taking the last steps to the door, Ranard reached out for the doorknob…and froze.
This isn’t what he wanted. This isn’t what he needed. The last seven years had been one long nightmare. Constantly trying to stay ahead of the game at work. Hanging out with friends and coworkers he didn’t like…and who didn’t like him. Sleeping with any woman who said yes. And Gilbert Porter going out of his way to find his youngest son every few weeks to tell him how worthless he was. He’d tell him how a real man would step up to the plate and reclaim his family…be the husband and father they needed him to be. Not some loser who couldn’t even remember his sons’ birthdays.
Ranard Porter had wanted to fix his life, but he didn’t know how. He’d wanted to push his pride aside and admit his weaknesses. But he just couldn’t. Not to Lennie. She was so smart. Always confident and sure of herself. Even when he attempted to berate and degrade her, she rose above him and continued on. Not seeking or needing his approval. Not needing anyone’s approval…the way he did. Approval he never found.
He turned slightly to look at what he’d lost. Myron stood with his arm around RJ’s shoulder, and they watched their mother comfort Duncan. His teenage son who stood ready to defend his brother…from him. A man-child…already more of a man than Ranard was…or would ever be.
Ranard silently opened the door and slipped out into the loneliness of the night…where he belonged.
Watching as Duncan knelt to console a still fearful RJ, Lenore Porter heard the click of the door when it closed.
It was over.
Part V Part VII
©Felicia Denise, 2016